The Serpent’s Curse is the second full-length release from UK symphonic metal act Pythia. For a young band they’ve left it quite a while since dropping their debut, Beneath the Veiled Embrace, which was released in 2009. Although I enjoyed their debut it didn’t particularly grab me as anything special either. Time seems to have been well spent between albums for Pythia though as in 2012 they’ve blasted back with a slightly altered line-up that now includes To-Mera’s Mark Harrington and an album that looks set to catapult the band right up there to stand among the greats of symphonic metal.
The up in the quality of the material is just astounding. In 2009 Beneath the Veiled Embrace had me considering Pythia to be just another half-decent symphonic metal band. Then The Serpent’s Curse comes along, knocks that notion on the head and asserts itself as one of 2012’s best symphonic metal releases, even going as far to blow one of the big guns of the style out of the water (Epica). Only the recent release from Xandria, Neverworld’s End really tops what Pythia just did with the Serpent’s Curse. But while that album is a perfect example of symphonic power metal of the vein Nightwish used to play The Serpent’s Curse is a symphonic power metal album with a much more unique approach to what the genre has previously established. Although I prefer Xandria’s out of this year’s symphonic metal releases so far, Pythia have in all fairness made an album with much more going for it in the wider scheme of things.
That’s because they don’t just rely on a symphonic approach in their music. The slow and building clean guitars of the opening Cry of Our Nation is the first sign of this, being very much an atypical way to kick off a symphonic metal album. Normally you’d get a building symphonic intro track, so this is refreshing to say the least. More than this the band draws on other genres as well. Progressive tendencies creep in during some parts but more than that, they band is also influenced by extreme metal styles, particularly thrash metal. The guitars are allowed much more of free reign than they are in other symphonic bands, making them feel very much the main instrument rather than the keyboards. Riffs are not just there because they need to be, but drive the album and are often aggressive fast paced affairs. It’s metal as it should be, basically. It may seem at times with other symphonic metal bands that they forget what it means to be a metal band. No such worries here, Pythia have all the credentials they need completely covered, resulting in an album that takes the best of both worlds.
Now, just because I said there’s an extreme metal influence here, doesn’t mean you’re going to get yet another beauty and the beast vocal team. No growls to be found here, just the vocals of the excellent female vocalist Emily Alice Ovenden, who carries both the heaviest and most symphonic material on the album to the same high standard. And if you’re thinking that this sounds like a bad idea if they’re going to draw on extreme metal you needn’t, her voice suits every song of this album.
All songs on the album are of the highest quality. Better yet, they’re easy to tell apart. You’ve got the more intricate mini-epics like Cry of Our Nation and Our Forgotten Land, all out rockers like lead single Betray My Heart, real heavy beasts like Kissing the Knife and progressively inclined tracks like Dark Star. It’s an oddball of an album really, you know it’s a symphonic metal release, and yet it doesn’t play like one as you know it at all. The album is just shy of fifty minutes in length, but doesn’t feel like it at all. Like anything really good, it just flies by before you know it. Naturally reaching for the repeat button isn’t a bad idea.
Based on The Serpent’s Curse I think it’s very clear that Pythia is leading the charge of a new breed of symphonic metal bands and if they and others like them can keep up the sort of quality on display here then maybe symphonic metal will soon become much less of a joke to the true metal elite, not to mention get it out of the beauty and the beat rut. For generally pushing the boat out and making what may just be the most unique album of the genre for quite some time, Pythia deserves no less than a top tier score.
(Originally written for Heavy Metal Haven (http://metaltube.freeforums.org))